Archive for the 'Mortality' Category

Circumventing Darwin

I picked up a free flashlight from a cheap tool import shop. This handy, hand held Object at Hand is a flashlight, with a¬† warning label. ūüėÄ

To prevent serious Injury:

  1. Wear ANSI-approved safety goggles during use.
  2. People with pacemakers should consult their physican(s) before use. Electromagnetic fields in close
    proximity to heart pacemaker could cause pacemaker interference or pacemaker failure.
  3. Position batteries in Proper polarity and do not install batteries of different types, charge levels, or capacities together
  4. The brass components of this product contain lead a Chemical known to the State of California
    to cause cancer and and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Let’s set aside that I went to Harbor Freight; I do know the quality of their tools. I’ve been mail ordering from them since they only had an outlet in California, over a decade before the Web.

But here we have a hand held flashlight that uses significantly less power than the old EverReady flashlights that we got for free with a two-pack of “D” batteries back when I was a kid. I’m old enough to have gotten the ribbed metal flashlights, before the orange plastic. Those rusted away when a battery leaked.

But the point is not about the flashlight, but about the silly warning label. Sure, I’ve seen the toaster oven warning not to use it in the tub. But these warnings are even more absurd:

Let’s begin with, safety goggles to use a flashlight? Really? This is not a laser pointer, nor does it have the capability to explode. The alkaline batteries that one would find in here cannot be made to explode unless you throw them in a pretty hot fire. Maybe the flexible plastic hook that swings out from the back could do eye damage during roughhousing?

Pacemakers? Granted, they probably use a switching power supply to boost the voltage for the LED matrix. That is, this device probably does produce a barely detectable electromagnetic field. Probably orders of magnitude less powerful than a cell phone. But technically it does produce some radio noise, and by law that means it must need a warning. I suppose.

Then there are several warnings about how to use batteries that I would have thought most kids old enough to read would already know. But what they don’t tell you is, What Kind of Batteries does it need?

And finally, because of California, a warning about the minute trace of lead one finds in brass. Brass is the group of copper alloys with 55-75% copper with most of the rest being zinc. As with any metal outside of the semi-conductor industry, it will have small traces of other elements, including lead. The (WAG) gram of brass in this flashlight would have up to about 0.004 grams of lead. (Here’s an actual analysis of some unspecified brass alloy). But that trace of lead is in there because the extreme chemical processes used to purify the copper and zinc were unable to get the lead out. What are the odds that anything you could do would extract any measurable amount of it?

IMHO, this warning label is somewhere between specious and laughable. Yet apparently required by law in California. Good luck to those members of our species who may need it.

Lucky Letter Opener

Today’s object gets a nod because of a recent unintended doubly-off-label usage. A few years ago I ordered some furnace igniters online. Within the package, they had included this promotional wine bottle opener, today’s Object at Hand.

Bottle Opener

Wine and furnace repair seemed an odd non-sequitur, but I found a use for it: This bottle opener has sat on my counter as a fine and efficient  letter opener for years.

But a few weeks ago, I knocked it off the counter and it stuck vertically into the wooden floor right by my foot. You can picture the sound of it quivering there. I felt lucky that it had missed my foot. The same physics of angular momentum that causes toast to land butter side down gives this device good odds of sticking the floor.

Then a few days ago, I was setting a package on the counter in the dark and I heard a “thunk,” and felt a pain in my toe. I looked down. The letter opener lay innocently on the floor next to it. There was a small red spot, growing larger, near the center front of my sock. Yeah, in the winter I wear socks in the house.

I pulled off the sock, and noticed that the blood was coming from the middle of my medial toenail. I soaked up a few minutes of bleeding with tissues, then put on a band-aid. My coagulation is good; it stopped bleeding in minutes.

Here is what it looks like a few days later; pretty neat as punctures go. Not the best of pedicures, either.

Owie toe

This reminds me, I’m due for a TDaP, or DTaP, or whatever they are calling the standard 10 year vaccination nowadays.

Letting Code Go

FolkFireCalendarI have written about letting go of old industrial code in the past. But today I have decided that it is time to discard a vestigial part of my first website, something where the code is still in use. Barely. Today’s Object at Hand is the old FolkFire calendar.

I started writing the FolkFire web site in early 1995, using my $25 copy of Netscape Navigator 2.0, and writing my code in Notepad for the proposed HTML 2.0 standard. I bought a book on HTML and taught myself as I coded. I had to manually install a TCPIP socket (“winsock”) on my DOS/Windows 3.11 machine in order to connect even to my local server. Sorry about the “Back when I was a kid…”

In 1996 I added an events calendar, written in Perl using another book to learn as I went. This was back before Google, before Yahoo, and before local newspapers, TV stations, etc. had sites with calendars of events. We consolidated events from all over the region, to make it easier for both people and groups to do their planning.

Over the next few years, this calendar evolved a bit. I put in hundreds of volunteer hours just for the calendar. By Y2K it was pretty much in its current format (click on the image to see it as it was, via the Wayback Machine Web Archive). It leveled off at about 1,200 lines of original code, because I am always careful to remove what is no longer needed. Sometimes adding a feature resulted in shorter code.

But since the millennium I have been trying to divest myself of this web site. There has been a Help Wanted banner on the FolkFire home page for 13 years!

Then I noticed that for the last several years, no one even submits events to our calendar any more. Long ago I lost the eager drive to chase after groups and beg them for their information so that we can give them free promotion. So it is time to put this piece of my history to bed. If a FolkFire calendar is to rise again, whoever does it can use the Google calendar engine.

Back Up Again

Safe BackupNo, I did not have another computer crash, as I had reported in Surviving the Blue Screen of Death a couple of years ago. However, one theme of that post was the importance of having a good backup off premises. Today, I stopped by the bank to pull my offsite complete (but aged) hard drive copy from safe deposit, slip it in my back pocket, and bike back home so that I can clone my drive afresh.

So the Object At Hand today is actually the key to safe deposit storage rather than the pocket sized terabyte container of my whole computer’s soul.

USBDriveI do copy my personal data files, like pictures, videos, email boxes, web site files, and so on to a local external, isolated hard drive every few days using a USB adapter that is only powered up to do the backup, and then shut down again. This saves energy, and makes it immune to power surges up to lightning strikes.

This is fine to protect against power surges, viruses, or disk crashes. But a thorough burglary or fire would lose me this copy. Also, as described in my BSD article, a full clone gets you up and running ever so much faster than having to reload your O/S and all your software manually.

Cloning configurationSo tonight I will open up my tower (that is commonly erroneously called a “CPU” [which is actually the processor chip behind the fan], or the “hard drive” [which is the thing I’m working with at the bottom connected by wires], or even [for reasons I don’t apprehend] the “modem”), connect the hard drive to a second SATA port, boot to a CD with cloning software. I downloaded free EaseUS Disk Copy, but a techie friend prefers Clonezilla.¬† It runs overnight, as a terabyte (1,000,000,000,000 bytes) takes a while to copy even at direct SATA bus speeds. Tomorrow I can take an up to date version of my whole system back to the bank where it will survive anything but direct megaton hits.

At the core of the issue, the object is peace of mind.

Presbyopia is a Pain in the Neck

At the age of fifty-one my eyesight is still 20/20. As long as you stay at least four feet away. To see closer than that, I have been stashing reading glasses everywhere, and even carrying them with me, as I mention in Outta¬†Sight. But I finally have given in and decided that it is time to invest in bifocals, today’s Object at Hand.

Stylin’ the Progressive lenses for my Droid cam

I decided to go directly to the lineless style, not because of vanity, but because this gives me a range of focal distances. Little did I know what a trip this journey into glasses-land would be. When I first put them on, I did expect the world to get a bit absurd. Things seemed to swoop around me to the sides. But I trusted that my mind would figure out how to deal with this in a few days of continuous wear. I danced that night, enjoying the extra dizziness and in a woozy sort of way. And also the next dance that weekend.

I was thrilled that I could actually read my phone, my little Droid. It was nice to be able to focus on the faces of the women in my arms and still be able to see the room swirling around us. But as the first few days passed, my giddy sense of discovery waned. I became very aware of how blurry most of my field of view has become. I can only see about a 20 degree cone of sharpness, from the horizon up, and ten degrees to the left and right. I have to move my head around instead of just shifting my eyes. To see my feet, I have to press my chin to my chest. So now I have quite a sore neck.

I also have to sweep my head from side to side and up and down to read a magazine or my main computer screen. Even a paperback page blurs toward the edges. I realize that eventually my mind will learn that I can still read those fuzzy edges, and will stop insisting on wagging my head.

How bad is it? Here are views of graph paper and my garden, so you can see how weird my world now looks:

After two weeks, my eyes still tire early, but my neck is stronger.

Certain experiences were notably weird:

  • The first dance in a crowded room
  • The first bike ride
  • Walking through an aisle in a store
  • Walking down stairs
  • Driving at night (internal reflections in the lenses)
  • Gardening, as my sweat drips into my lenses, and sprinklers spot them on the outside.

I also still have not shaken the habit of taking my glasses off after reading or using the computer. On! I tell myself, “Glasses now are kept on my nose.”

 

AARP, gulp.

A little while back I discussed my reaching Half a Century old in terms of my early papers, and some of the changes to our world in my lifetime. But the Object at Hand today is my legitimately obtained copy of AARP magazine.

A Typical AARP Reader?

I had tossed it aside and apparently my housemate Friedrich picked it up. Now, this seemed eerily evocative of the way youngsters (such as I still feel myself to be) perceive people who read this magazine.

The word “Retired” comprises the ahr¬† in their acronym. But most people at the AARP age minimum are nowhere near retired. Especially in the early 21st century economy when an American household apparently needs two wage earners till they are seventy to meet basic expenses.

So AARP reaches out to those who are of an age to barely see the light of retirement at the end of the tunnel of their useful life. That is a mere dozen years before one currently can start reclaiming some of his Social Security money. So AARP provides articles on planning for retirement, and investment advice, and more such for we wee ones.

As for me, among those abruptly dropped from the ranks of the median family income earners back when the tech bubble burst, I cannot decide whether I am semi-employed, or semi-retired.

Perhaps I will be able to make that determination before I look like old Friedrich here.

Unsafe Safety Signs

I am a regular bicyclist. I ride to stores, to doctor appointments, to social meetings, and to pretty much any other short commute in clement weather that doesn’t require carrying more than half my weight or volume in cargo. So it generally lightens my heart to see the increasing frequency of bicycle reminders on or around roadways. This bit of road paint, today’s Object at Hand, is on the street near my house.

But the more of these signs I see, the more I am realizing how they actually pose a threat to bikers.

Why? The problem is in the way our minds work. For those who haven’t studied psychology and perception, or neurology, nor read geeky mainstream books such as “Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention“, let me present a couple of things have been proven, that you can research for yourself later:

  • At the primitive levels of our mind, we can only see what we have learned to see.
  • Dissimilar images that evoke a shared idea require more cognitional effort to relate than do similar images. For example, it takes a slower and higher part of the brain to associate the relationship between a penny and a twenty than to recognize two different coins both as valuta.

Given these points, can you see the problem? How about if I show you the driver’s perspective of a bicyclist?

Do you see it, now? This is what almost every bicyclist looks like to a driver. Bikers of both motorized and pedaled two wheelers are always complaining that cars don’t see them.

The problem is that drivers are always shown a particular image of what to expect, and it bears no resemblance to what a bicyclist looks like. It is this basic cognitive problem rather than the relative narrowness of two wheeled vehicles that poses the greatest threat to us. But almost every bicycle warning sign uses the same basic profile image, repeatedly retraining drivers in what to look out for. Here is a sampling from around the world.

Try Googling for bicycle signs, yourself! One motorcyclist friend who has repeatedly been reminded how invisible we are even wears a special shirt to try to draw attention to his invisible presence:

I would like to get a campaign going to make bicycling safer by deploying and requiring signs to look more like this crude mock-up I created. Note how much more like an actual bicyclist it looks, and think about what it tells you to look out for.

For comparison, what sign seems a better warning/reminder of what to look for?